Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa

Lutheran mission work in South Africa started at the turn of the 19th century, from Europe and the USA. The ELCSA evolved from five regional churches within South Africa, reflecting various mission influences and traditions. The regional churches united to form one church in 1975, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. During the mission era, the then cooperating Lutheran regional churches in South Africa had many institutions in the areas of health and education, built and run by the churches. These institutions have since been taken over by the government. Presently the ELCSA is active in mission outreach work and is involved in new urban areas, including informal settlements. It has a very active Women's Prayer League in all its congregations, doing diakonia, stewardship and evangelism. A Men's League and a Youth League are similarly present in the congregational life of the church. The ELCSA is involved in communication and development activities through the dioceses. Sunday schools, farm schools, hostel and youth work are part of the educational activities. The church is also strongly engaged in community-based social work. It runs 78 church schools, one Bible school, one hospital, 12 church centres-guest houses, 38 creches and two old age homes. Following a recent decision of the church, all candidates for the ministry must enroll with the University of KwaZulu-Natal through the Lutheran Theological Institute. The seminary has been moved from its old isolated location to Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal.

The political and socio-economic situation of South Africa has its impact on the life of the church. Since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994 major changes have taken place and new trends are emerging. An important instrument for building a united society of all races has been the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Even though set up by the government, the churches got involved in it by supporting the idea that there could be no reconciliation without confession and forgiveness. More women are holding top positions in society, and this has accelerated the process of ordaining women pastors in the ELCSA. The concept of the African Renaissance has encouraged the move towards africanization or indigenization of worship in many congregations. The new constitution has made South Africa a secular state. While this is normal it also brings new challenges to the church: the Christian communities are fast being secularized and the Christian ethos which used to be held up in all the schools has declined. There is a growing trend towards urbanization. The country is facing social problems such as poverty, crime and the breakdown of the moral fibre, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, etc. The general economic decline is adversely affecting the contributions from the parishes, some of which are no longer able adequately to support their pastors.

The unity discussions between the ELCSA and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (UELCSA), which is mainly and originally German-speaking, have not as yet yielded their fruits. The main partners of the ELCSA outside South Africa are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Church of Sweden, the Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-West (Germany) and the Hermannsburg Evangelical Lutheran Mission (Germany).